Making Smart Bulbs Smarter With The Power Of MQTT

What’s the point of smart home automation? To make every day tasks easier, of course! According to [Tomasz Cybulski], that wasn’t the case when he installed IKEA smart lights in his closet. It’s handy to have them in a common switch, in this case a remote control, but having to look for it every time he needed the lights could use some improvement. Enter his project to make smart bulbs smarter, through the use of a simple ESP8266.

While hooking a door switch to the lights’ power supply could provide a quick solution, [Tomasz]’s wife wanted to keep the functionality of the remote control, so he had to look elsewhere. These light bulbs use the simple Zigbee protocol, so arranging for other devices was rather trivial. A USB dongle to interface with the protocol was configured for his existing Raspberry Pi automation controller, while an ESP8266 served as the real-world sensor by connecting it to reed switches installed in the closet doors.

With all the hardware sorted out, it’s a simple matter of making it all talk to each other. The ESP8266, using the Tasmota firmware, sends a signal to an MQTT server running on the Raspberry Pi, which in turn translates it to a remote trigger on the Zigbee frequency with the dongle. The lights turn on when the door opens, and off again once it closes. And since there were no further modifications to the lights themselves, the original IKEA controller still works as expected, which we’re sure [Tomasz]’s wife appreciates!

MQTT can be an interesting piece of software that goes beyond just home automation though, and if you already have a server in your home you can use it to transfer your clipboard’s contents to another device. If you are using it for home automation though, here’s an inspiration for a rather unusual dashboard to keep things interesting. Check out this hack in action after the break.

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Weather Note Tells You What You Need To Know, And No More

Smartphones are portals to an overwhelming torrent of information. Yes, they’re a great way to find out the time, your bus schedule, and the weather, but they’re also full of buzzers and bells going off every three minutes to remind you that your uncle has reposted a photo of the fish he caught ten years ago. Sometimes, it’s better to display just the essentials, and that’s what Weather Note does.

It’s built around the Adafruit Feather Huzzah, a devboard built around the venerable ESP8266. It’s a great base for an Internet of Things project like this one, with WiFi built-in and ready to go. The Weather Note talks to a variety of online platforms to scrape weather data and helpful reminders, with the assistance of If This Then That, or IFTTT. Reminders to walk the dog or get some milk are displayed on a small OLED screen, while there’s also a bunch of alphanumeric displays for other information. WS2812 LEDs are used behind a shadowbox to display weather conditions, with cute cloud, rain, and sun icons. It’s all wrapped up in a tidy frame perfect for the mantlepiece or breakfast table.

It’s a great build to learn about programming for the Internet of Things, and with those bright LED displays, it’s probably a viable nightlight too. It’s a rare project that can both tell you about the weather and keep you from stubbing your toe in the kitchen, after all. Those desiring a stealthier build should consider going down the smart mirror route instead. Video after the break.

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Shhh… Robot Vacuum Lidar Is Listening

There are millions of IoT devices out there in the wild and though not conventional computers, they can be hacked by alternative methods. From firmware hacks to social engineering, there are tons of ways to break into these little devices. Now, four researchers at the National University of Singapore and one from the University of Maryland have published a new hack to allow audio capture using lidar reflective measurements.

The hack revolves around the fact that audio waves or mechanical waves in a room cause objects inside a room to vibrate slightly. When a lidar device impacts a beam off an object, the accuracy of the receiving system allows for measurement of the slight vibrations cause by the sound in the room. The experiment used human voice transmitted from a simple speaker as well as a sound bar and the surface for reflections were common household items such as a trash can, cardboard box, takeout container, and polypropylene bags. Robot vacuum cleaners will usually be facing such objects on a day to day basis.

The bigger issue is writing the filtering algorithm that is able to extract the relevant information and separate the noise, and this is where the bulk of the research paper is focused (PDF). Current developments in Deep Learning assist in making the hack easier to implement. Commercial lidar is designed for mapping, and therefore optimized for reflecting off of non-reflective surface. This is the opposite of what you want for laser microphone which usually targets a reflective surface like a window to pick up latent vibrations from sound inside of a room.

Deep Learning algorithms are employed to get around this shortfall, identifying speech as well as audio sequences despite the sensor itself being less than ideal, and the team reports achieving an accuracy of 90%. This lidar based spying is even possible when the robot in question is docked since the system can be configured to turn on specific sensors, but the exploit depends on the ability to alter the firmware, something the team accomplished using the Dustcloud exploit which was presented at DEF CON in 2018.

You don’t need to tear down your robot vacuum cleaner for this experiment since there are a lot of lidar-based rovers out there. We’ve even seen open source lidar sensors that are even better for experimental purposes.

Thanks for the tip [Qes]

Easy IoT Logging Options For The Beginner

If a temperature sensor takes a measurement in the woods but there’s nobody around to read it, is it hot out? 

If you’ve got a project that’s collecting data, you might have reasons to put it online. Being able to read your data from anywhere has its perks, after all, and it’s key to building smarter interconnected systems, too. Plus, you can tell strangers the humidity in your living room while you’re out at the pub, and they’ll be really impressed.

Taking the leap into the Internet of Things can be daunting however, with plenty of competing services and options from the basic to the industrial-strength available. Today, we’re taking a look at two options for logging data online that are accessible to the beginner. Continue reading “Easy IoT Logging Options For The Beginner”

Internet Connected E-Paper Message Board

Are you still writing notes on paper and sticking them to the fridge like it’s the ’80s? Well, if you are, and you read this site, you’d probably like to upgrade to something a bit more 21st century. And, thanks to robot maker [James Bruton], you can leave your old, last century, message taking behind as he has a tutorial up showing you how to build an internet connected e-paper message display board. And, if you have a Raspberry Pi, an e-paper display and adapters just lying around doing nothing, then this project will cost you less than the buck that paper and a magnet will cost you.

Sarcasm aside, this is a pretty nice project. As mentioned, the base of this is a Raspberry Pi – [James] uses a Pi 4, but you could get away with an older, lower powered model as well. This powers the cheap(-ish) e-paper display he found online, which comes with the necessary adapters for the Pi, as well as a python library to write to the display. [James] uses a Google Sheet as the cloud storage for the message board, and there is some python code to access the cells in the Sheet and print them on the display if anything has changed. A cron job runs the script every 5 minutes to catch changes in the messages.

As with most of the projects that [James] does, he gives a good overview in the video and goes over the process of finding the hardware and writing and updating the script. He’s put the script and details as well as the CAD file for the frame he created for the project up on GitHub. [James] has been featured several times on the site before, check out some of his projects.

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Heater Joins The Internet Of Things With ESP32 Board

The wood-burning heater [g3gg0] has at home works perfectly, except for one flaw: the pellet reservoir needs to be manually refilled every few days. Humans being notoriously unreliable creatures, this critical task is sometimes overlooked, which naturally leads to literally chilling results.

With automatic fill systems expensive and difficult to install, [g3gg0] wanted to find some kind of way for the heater to notify its caretakers about any potential fault conditions. Not just the fact that it was out of fuel (though that would naturally be the most common alert), but any other issue which would potentially keep the heater from doing it’s job. In short, the heater was going to get a one-way ticket to the Internet of Things.

As it turns out, this task was not quite as difficult as you might expect. The Windhager heater already had upgrade bays where the user could insert additional modules and sensors, as well as a rudimentary data bus over RS-485. All [g3gg0] had to do was tap into this bus, decode what the packets contained, and use the information to generate alerts over the network. The ESP32 was more than up to the task, it just needed a custom PCB and 3D printed enclosure that would allow it to slot into the heater like an official expansion module.

When an interesting message flashes across the bus, the ESP32 captures it and relays the appropriate message to an MQTT broker. From there, the automation possibilities are nearly endless. In this case, the heater’s status information is being visualized with tools like Grafana, and important alerts are sent out to mobile devices with PushingBox. With a setup like this, the Windhager will never go hungry again.

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New Contest Puts PSoC Boards In The Hands Of 50 Entries

Today marks the beginning of the PSoC IoT design contest. Show us your idea for an interesting Internet-connected thing and we’ll send you a dev kit to actually build it.

With the help of Cypress, Digi-Key, and AWS IoT we’ll be sending out your choice of  PSoC 6 WiFi-BT Pioneer kit or Prototyping Kit to up to 50 entries just for publishing a great idea of something to build with them. As you guessed from the name, these provide WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, but they’re also bristling with seven programmable analog blocks the PSoC is known for, and a hundred GPIO. They have prototyping add-ons like a 2.4″ screen for user interface, audio, IMU, capacitive touch, and a heap of other goodies.

You have until May 26th to post a project page on outlining your idea — don’t forget to use that “Submit project to” button to enter it in the contest. Tells us all about the IoT project you want to build and which PSoC 6 board you plan to use. If your idea is picked, we’ll send you the dev board and you’ll have until August to actually build your idea. Grand Prize will receive a $500 prepaid Visa card, two runners up will each receive a $250 card.

Full details are available on the contest page. We know you’ve always wanted to give your fish a Twitter account, to have a dashboard that shows up-to-the minute stats on how much Boo Berry Cereal you have left, a beacon to give you push alerts when the laundry needs to make its way into the dryer, or perhaps you plan to build a new wave of Internet-connect pagers. Whatever it is, from a silly idea to a truly life-improving build, if it’s begging to spread its data far and wide, it’s a perfect idea for this contest.